Saturday, September 12, 2015


Post #8

Donald A. Windsor

My working life as a scientist in a pharmaceutical research and development facility was satisfactory. It provided steady employment from graduate school to retirement. The work was interesting, exciting, personally fulfilling, and it paid well. Moreover, I was contributing to curing a great many patients.
But my greatest thrill as a scientist occurred in my life after working, during retirement.

For my doctorate I studied parasites and was fascinated by their insidious involvement in ecosystems. However, to land a job, I had to abandon parasites and adapt my biological and chemical education to medical applications. Upon retirement, I wondered what was going on in parasitology during the three decades I was absent. So I undertook a massive reading of thirty years of parasitology literature. It took me a year and a half. Toward the end I was struck with a eureka moment when it became obvious to me that parasites were not just pesky bit-players. On the contrary, parasites were the prime controllers of ecosystems.

Our biosphere is not free-living organisms parasitized by a few nasty villains. It was the other way around. Our biosphere is composed of parasites that cultivate their hosts, with the parasite species outnumbering the host species. Parasites form an intricate network within the host species that most biologists study. This discovery is even more astounding when considering that most biologists have never even taken a single course in parasitology!

Moreover, parasitism is just one type of symbiosis. Include all symbiosis and the model of our biosphere becomes a mind boggling nexus of different species interacting and evolving together.
However thrilling my discovery was to me, it had no discernible impact on the field of biology. I could not get my ideas published. My greatest discovery, the biocartel, remains only self published. A biocartel is a duel aspect assemblage of all the parasite species hosted by one free-living species or all the free-living species burdened by one parasite species. Disappointed but undaunted, I tried to communicate the basic concepts in very terse letters to editors. I did get one opportunity to express my ideas in the article cited below. It languished for over a decade before it started to get cited. It is now being cited almost monthly.

I am now 81 years old and doubt that I will still be alive when the full importance of parasites is eventually realized. Nevertheless, my case history illustrates two different aspects of a scientist's life, professional employment and personal discovery. Nice if you can get them combined, but to those scientists who cannot, I suggest turning your retirements into new careers by pursuing those aspirational ideas you had back in graduate school.

Windsor, Donald A. Most of the species on Earth are parasites.
International Journal for Parasitology 1998 December; 28(12): 1939-1941.